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Mobility Impairments Requiring the Use of a Wheelchair

headshot of Itzhak Perlman holding his violin in front of him

Itzhak Perlman

“I always say separate your abilities from your disabilities. You know, if I could play the violin, I don’t have to play it standing up. I can play it sitting down and so on.”

–Itzhak Perlman, Emmy and Grammy-award winning classical musician

Journalist John Charles Hockenberry and actor Daryl “Chill”
Mitchell also are wheelchair users. Internationally renowned
physicist Stephen Hawking also was a wheelchair user.

People can use a wheelchair for a large number of reasons. They may have been born with a condition that requires the use of a wheelchair or acquired the need to use a wheelchair after an injury. The reason someone uses a wheelchair is private health information and must be volunteered only if the person wants to disclose that information. Wheelchair users can require their wheelchairs all the time, some of the time or just when they travel certain distances. No matter how often they use their wheelchair, they are not “wheelchair bound.” In reality, wheelchairs and other assistive devices represent independence for their users, not a burden. Wheelchair users require physical accessibility such as ramps, door buttons and lowered surfaces.

Consider a person’s wheelchair part of the person. It is not polite to touch or lean on the chair unless the person gives permission. Never pat a person in a wheelchair on the head. Do not crouch or kneel to speak with someone in a wheelchair. Use a chair to speak at eye level. Still, eye contact is more important than eye level.

According to the NIH, 2.2 million people in the United States use a wheelchair, and 6.5 million people use a cane, walker or crutches.

National organizations for people who use wheelchairs:

  • The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to advancing quality of life and discovering cures for spinal cord injury in the here and now. Its mission is curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research, and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy.
  • Humanity & Inclusion, formerly Handicap International, is a 35-year-old independent organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster that was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International) is a 35-year-old independent and impartial organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. With local partners, they run programs in health and rehabilitation and social and economic integration.
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America, a congressionally chartered veterans service organization founded in 1946,has a unique expertise on a wide variety of issues involving the special needs of their members – veterans of the armed forces who have experienced spinal cord injury or dysfunction. They advocate for health care, research and education, employment, benefits and independence for their members.
  • The United Spinal Association is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of all people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including veterans, and providing support and information to loved ones, care providers and professionals. Their goal is to provide people living with SCI/D programs and services that maximize their independence and enable them to remain active in their communities.

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